This article originally appeared in The Daily News and was written by Quinn Welsch. To view the original article, click here.
LONGVIEW, WA – A new device at the Longview YMCA is using technology to ward off sex predators.
Any non-member entering the building must submit a license or state-issued ID card, which is run through a scanner that checks it against a national database for sex offenders. The scanner, a product of Raptor Technologies, has been in use for the past year and a half. It has prevented at least eight sex offenders from entering the facility, said Janine Manny, the Y’s director.
“The potential for a child being unsupervised where somebody could do something to them is a big worry,” Manny said. “When it happens at your facility, it ruins everything. It’s like having a child drown in your swimming pool.”
To Manny’s knowledge, there have been no incidents of child sexual abuse at the Y, but the benefits of preventing sex offenders from entering the facility far outweigh the inconvenience of submitting to an ID scan, she said.
Sex offenders will often gain entry to a recreation center or YMCA, hide inside of the facility and then abuse the children at the location, Manny said. The Longview YMCA, originally built in 1923, could be especially vulnerable because of it’s maze-like design. The long hallways, numerous broom closets, classrooms and other “nooks and crannies” make the facility easy for children to get lost and for potential predators to hide, she said.
“There’s been a couple times where you get kids who want to go everywhere and they go places they shouldn’t,” said Lester Cornwell, the YMCA’s youth sports coordinator. “On Saturdays, we have parents drop kids off, and they’re here all day. It’s kind of like we’re babysitting.”
While the new scanning device has only prevented a handful of sex offenders from entering, Manny said knowledge of the scanner at the facility acts as a deterrent, potentially preventing many more sex offenders from even from attempting to gain access to the YMCA.
“It is quite often that when people realize we are scanning driver IDs they turn around and leave,” she said. “That just makes this place safer, even if we don’t catch that many.”
In the past, the YMCA background checks weren’t as thorough, Manny said. Before becoming a member, individuals had to submit to a sex offender check through the local law enforcement database, she said. That method limited the search results only to Cowlitz County and only to members.
There were 686 registered sex offenders in Cowlitz County as of July 1, according to the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office.
“If the person hadn’t been convicted in Cowlitz, we wouldn’t have heard about it,” she said.
Many of the YMCA’s approximately 5,000 members come from outside of the county, Manny said, in places such as Vader and Toledo, some even in Oregon. Now, everyone who enters the facility is subject to a scan, whether they are applying for a membership or simply attending youth activities. About 1,500 to 4,000 spectators might come through the doors on a monthly basis, according to Manny’s estimate.
The scanner combs through a national sex offender registry, scanning each guest within about five seconds.
There has been some protest from a few visitors, but the response has been mostly good, Manny said.
“I think it’s a good way to protect the kids,” said longtime YMCA member Tom Keen. “I was molested as a kid. I know there are people who don’t want to talk about it, but if no one talks about it, they sweep it under the rug.”
Many other larger YMCAs in the country are currently using the Raptor Technologies scanner. The Longview branch is one of the first small locations to begin using the device, Manny said.